Alexandra Christo’s first novel, To Kill a Kingdom, was a fairytale. From the blossoming romance, sarcastic quips and relatable characters it wove magic and adventure throughout a charming, compelling storyline. Into the Crooked Place is a nightmare. Full of burnt magic, twisted characters, underhand dealings and powerful threats it presents a dark and unexpected tale that drags any reader into its sinuous depths.
Decades ago Crafters, a race powerful enough to create magic, were forced to make a monster: Dante Ashwood, ruler of the realms’ underworld, has stolen their magic to the point of twisted madness. While he will stop at nothing for his mad desire for power it is only when he threatens to destroy the realms and drag the underworld with it that Wesley, Ashwood’s protégé, knows he must be stopped. Unable to watch the realm crumble that Wesley spent everything building he decides to fight his deadly boss with just a group of loyal buskers, a fistful of charms and a team of unpredictable Crafters bent on vengeance. But can Tavia, Saxony, Karam and Wesley, enemies thrown together with one deadly goal, defeat this wicked monsters, or will they loose themselves trying?
“The realms make monsters of us all,” Eirini said.
“It’s not the realms.” The blade felt too light in Saxony’s hands. “It’s the people in them.”
The four protagonists of Into the Crooked Place will snatch any readers attention. With four main narratives, written in third person but infused with individuality and perspective, Christo’s vivid writing allows readers to become intimate with each protagonists’ ambitions and fears, while keeping their personalities complex enough that the plot is peppered with the unexpected. Wesley, Ashwood’s protégée and betrayer, is dark and troubled. Marred by choices and allegiances he’s grown to regret his dark narrative drags readers into his sinister world, showing them his elusive motives and insufferable charisma. Saxony, meanwhile, will go to any lengths to restore what little is left of her family, her chapters sharp with determination and ringing with passion for a war that is more than justified in her opinion. As the fight becomes ever more personal her unpredictability and continual fight morphs as she develops throughout their perilous journey.
It’s through Tavia, Wesley’s best busker, the reader is introduced to the five realms and it’s underbelly, hazy with her jaded moral compass, desperation for escape and regret at the decisions she’s been forced to make. Her longing for freedom and misplaced loyalty makes her chapters unique and uplifting. Our final protagonist, Karam, is Wesley’s boxer. Sworn to protect the magic Ashwood is abusing Karam is spoiling for a fight and desperate to prove herself, her monologues depicting the pain of her past and her need to justify it. Together these four contrasting characters drag the reader through their pasts and present in an intimate yet unreliable journey where readers are never truly certain they understand these characters’ motivations. The choice to show each protagonists biggest regret further deepens the already poignant understanding between the reader and each personality. A plethora of side characters are included to further the plot but remain mostly undeveloped making it clear the readers focus is to remain on Saxony, Wesley, Tavia and Karam.
“If my Kin dies, I will drag you into the doomed spiritlands myself,” Arjun said to Wesley.
“You won’t need to. You’ll be there right beside me.”
In such a complex world Christo weaves a simple yet harrowing plot. The single aim our heroes share: to defeat Ashwood gives their group and the novel structure and purpose. Although this goal is simple it is wrought with complexities that leave nothing to certainty as Karam, Wesley, Saxony and Tavia take a precarious journey to fight an impossible war they cannot afford to loose. A foreboding tone is conjured throughout the novel from its inception when Tavia accidentally coerces a doomed prophecy from a dud orb, which only adds to the haunting tone. Combined with the treacherous mission it becomes immediately clear in this battle, the stakes are high. The pacing, too felt well done as the novel never drags: danger and action balanced well with monologues from characters or scenes from the past. Christo artfully tells her tale with equal parts anticipation and fear, producing a compelling and haunting read.
Cristo’s writing style in Into the Crooked Place is darker than To Kill a Kingdom. Dotted with poetic prose and beautiful imagery the reader sees darker twists and graphic scenes, brutal fights and desperate hopes as they are guided between each dramatic event. At first the multiple often changing viewpoints accompanied by shifting tones made the plot confusing as the reader was slowly introduced to the realms. However, as the novel progresses the internal monologue of each character draws readers into the storyline and their individual struggles while striking the perfect balance between delicate composition and intense action to further the plot. The personal relationship each reader builds up with each protagonist as they follow this dark tale creates a powerful connection that makes each difficulty even more poignant. The writing was beautiful yet purposeful crammed with plot, description and personality that makes it captivating for any reader.
“Magic was a language made from wishing, with glyphs in desire and consonants shaped from dreams.”
The setting of this novel is extremely complex and it is occasionally difficult to fully comprehend the extent of the realms and their powers. Christo attempts to introduce her readers to four multifaceted heroes and their backstories, an unconventional magic system, four realms, an unorthodox government and an underground criminal network. The imagination of her creation is remarkable and the effectiveness and simplicity with which Christo carries out the daunting task of Into The Crooked Place’s world building is impressive. The writing never tends towards clunky as the reader is drip fed information, but they must accept to not fully explore the extent and intimate complexities of Christo’s setting. The vastness of the complex world laid out in Into Crooked Place, impossible to fully probe in just 400 pages, leaves readers yearning for it’s sequel.
Apart from an already saturated genre Into the Crooked Place does not use romance as plot motivation. Although romantic relationships are portrayed throughout the book it is rarely focussed upon in our heroes’ motives. Meanwhile, strong bonds form slowly between this haphazard group, highlighted particularly between the surprising friendship crafted by Karam and Tavia, exploring a new and refreshing trope: enemies to friends. Through Karam and Saxony an LGBT relationship is depicted and it becomes clear to the reader that this is accepted within all the realms. Finally the tension between Tavia and Wesley, as they ponder whether their friendship could be something more is woven cleverly throughout the plot adding a layer of excitement from the potential slow burn romance brewing while not detracting from the events taking place.
“She stiffened but Wesley stayed still, staring at his hand on hers, wondering who would walk away first. One of them always walked away.”
It is not just Tavia who questions the integrity of her world. Morality is a key theme throughout the novel as each protagonist almost compares themselves to one another, questioning how similar they are to Ashwood’s twisted personality. They strive to make the correct decision while weighing up the consequences of each choice, internal turmoil interweaving throughout their stories. Combined with their unsightly underworld origin and complex character this theme is conjured often throughout the course of the novel.
Dark themes persist throughout Into the Crooked Places. There are trigger warnings for murder, madness and suicide. Although disturbing at times and containing graphic battles it is not horror and should be considered a darker fantasy. The target audience is older YA/adult. I managed to win an advanced reader copy of this novel, it will be released in all its glory October 2019.
Overall I would highly recommend Into the Crooked Place, coming out in October. It’s poignant protagonists, captivating plot and enchanting writing make it a firm favourite and I look forward to reading whatever else Christo writes.